Friday, January 9th, 2009

Year: 1930
Director: F.W. Murnau
Cast: Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, David Torrence, Edith Yorke, Anne Shirley, Tom McGuire, Richard Alexander, Patrick Rooney, Guinn Williams

I took a break from devouring the Borzage movies on the DVD set to watch one of the Murnau films. Today, the director is probably best remembered from his horror masterpiece Nosferatu. But that film doesn’t really show Murnau’s brilliant romantic side. While Sunrise is certainly his magnum opus, City Girl is a wonderful companion piece.

Lem (Farrell) is a farm boy sent by his father to the city to sell their wheat. While his business trip doesn’t go as well as planned, he meets the beautiful waitress Kate (Duncan) and falls in love with her. They marry, and Lem brings Kate back to the family farm. Kate is excited to finally have a family, and it greated warmly by Lem’s mother (Yorke) and sister (Shirley). His father (Torrence), looks down on the city girl and tries to break up the marriage.

As in Sunrise, Murnau loved to show the contrast between the city and the country. While he films the country farm scenes lovingly and beautifully, there’s still an oppressive feeling to the new world Kate comes to, despite the wide open planes. But there’s a stunning scene when Lem first brings Kate home where the two run through the wheat, playfully chasing each other. The camera work as it follows the characters is extremely impressive. Farrell and Duncan are great in this scene. It’s a joyful, exuberant, and incredibly romantic scene between the newly-weds. It’s brief, and not terribly important, but it’s my favorite scene in the movie.

City Girl also isn’t as visually creative as Sunrise. It’s filmed in a much more simple fashion, but it comes of beautifully. Murnau lovingly films both the city and the country scenes, and it’s easy to tell this film is a labor of love. Even thematically it’s a simpler film than Sunrise, but it explores the same idea of the emotional estrangement between husband and wife. It really pulls at your heart watching these two who are so in love struggle so much because of Lem’s father.

Farrell and Duncan had all kinds of chemistry. They were wonderful and sexy together in Borzage’s The River the year before, and they continue that chemistry here. Which only makes their separation even more painful. They both give excellent performances. A good deal of the most important roles early on in Farrell’s career had him playing arrogant men, but by City Girl he was mostly playing sweet, if not a little naive, characters. His sweetness and ernestness shine through in his scenes with Duncan, and his heartache and their situation show clearly as well. Duncan was so beautiful, and while Farrell is great, it’s mostly Duncan’s show. Like Farrell, her pain at their estrangement is clear and wrenching, but the character is much more closed off . It’s a beautiful performance.

By Katie Richardson


Year: 1942

Director: Billy Wilder

Cast: Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley, Diana Lynn, Edward Fielding

The Major and the Minor is Billy Wilder’s American directorial debut. He also wrote the screenplay together with one of his longtime collaberators, Charles Brackett. In a period of thirteen years they wrote more than a dozen classic screenplays together for some of the greatest films in history i.e. Ninotchka, Midnight, Ball Of Fire, The Long Weekend and best of all Sunset Blvd. The Major and the Minor was based on a play by Edward Childs Carpenter.

The ever-lovable Ginger Rogers plays Susan Appleton, a young woman who after a year of starting and failing at twentyfive different jobs in New York City decides to leave the City to go home to Stevenson, Iowa and marry a local boy. When she got to the city a year earlier she held onto an enveloppe with enough money in it for her return ticket home. When she gets to the ticket counter at the train station, she’s told the fairs have gone up in the last year and that she’s five dollars short for her return ticket. She goes into the Woman’s Loung to change her appearance so that she’ll look younger; as a 12 years old girl she’s gets a ticket for half fair.

On the train a couple of conductors aren’t fooled by her masquarede and she flees into the cabin of Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland). He’s fooled by her scheme and gets mesmerized with this child, which he calls Su-Su. He lets her stay with him in his cabin. The next morning Philip’s fiance Pamela (Rita Johnson) and soon-to-be-father-in-law Colonel Oliver Slater Hill (Edward Fielding) decide to pick him up from the train in High Creek, Indiana. When they get there Pamela sees a young woman in her fiancee’s cabin and wants to break off the engagement. Philip asks the “twelve year old” Su-Su to come along to the military academy to settle things straight.

The Major and the Minor is sort of a two faced film for me. It’s a very sweet film. Ginger Rogers is great. At the time she made this, she on the height of her career as an solo actress after her six year collaberation with Fred Astaire. But it’s a movie of it’s time. It couldn’t be made now without many adjustments. Ray Milland’s character threads a twelve year old like a five year old. You would presume his character, Philip Kirby, would have some characteristics of a child predator, if his character himself wouldn’t have been such a naive and very childish character. Wilder as a director is still searching for a style; compared to other Billy Wilder films The Major and the Minor is very static. But all these dubious thoughts are in no contrast to the cheer fun this movie still brings to the audience.

Filmtrivia: Susan (Ginger Rogers) Appleton’s mother is played by Lela E. Rogers (Ginger’s mother).

By Ralph van Zuuren